America’s ten most dangerous cities—as measured by federal crime statistics—have one highly notable feature in common: All are led politically by Democratic mayors. Most, in fact, have been controlled by Democrats for a very long time. For example, Detroit, which in 2015 ranked as the nation’s most dangerous city, has not had a Republican mayor since 1961. The second most dangerous city in 2015 was Oakland, California, a Democrat stronghold since 1977. Third was Memphis, in Democratic hands since 1991. Fourth was St. Louis, which has been led exclusively by Democratic mayors since 1949. Fifth was Cleveland, where no Republican has been mayor since 1989. Sixth was Baltimore, Democrat-led since 1967. Seventh was Milwaukee, which has elected only Democratic mayors since 1908. Eighth was Birmingham, which has been Democrat-run since 1975. Ninth was Newark, a Democrat bastion since 1933. And tenth was Kansas City, Missouri, which has not seen a Republican mayor since 1991.
New York City, which in the early 1990s transitioned away from nearly half a century of Democratic leadership, serves as a case study not only of how left-wing law-enforcement policies helped breed crime and chaos for a long period of time, but also how the cessation of those policies caused crime to plummet almost instantly.
From 1946 through 1993, New York was led, in succession, by the following Democratic mayors: William O’Dwyer, Vincent Impellitteri, Robert Wagner, John Lindsay, Abraham Beame, Ed Koch, and David Dinkins. Under the stewardship of these men, the city’s crime rates rose sharply and consistently, as reflected most starkly in its homicide statistics. In 1960, some 482 homicides occurred within the confines of New York’s five boroughs. By 1970, that figure had risen to 1,117. In 1980, it was 1,814. The apex was reached under Mayor Dinkins in 1990, when 2,245 people lost their lives to violence. During the ensuing three years of Dinkins’ mayoralty, the city’s homicide totals were 2,154, then 1,995, and finally 1,946.
Throughout his four years in office, Mayor Dinkins repeatedly demonstrated weakness and indecision in dealing with criminals. In some cases, he seemed to be openly at odds with the city’s police force. For instance, in the early 1990s a Dinkins administration brochure informed its readers that there “won’t be peace” until the police stop running “young men of color … off the streets.”
In other cases, the mayor tacitly legitimized the anti-police sentiments of nonwhite minority communities. The highly publicized July 3, 1992 police killing of an armed Dominican drug dealer named Jose “Kiko” Garcia in Washington Heights, New York illustrates the point with particular clarity. In the wake of Garcia’s death, rumors swiftly spread through the local Dominican community that the officer, without provocation, had pitilessly gunned down an innocent man. Some even claimed, falsely, that O’Keefe had shot Garcia in the back, and that the officer may have been high on drugs at the time. The community’s anger grew with every unfounded allegation, and eventually erupted into six days of rioting, during which 131 vehicles were destroyed, 14 buildings were burned, 90 people were injured (74 of them police officers), and one person was killed. Dinkins, for his part, stated that the community’s “anger” about the death of Jose Garcia was entirely “understandabl[e].” “But peace I beg you for,” he added pleadingly. The mayor also met with Garcia family members and promised not only a thorough investigation of the shooting, but also that the city would pay for Kiko Garcia’s funeral. Garcia’s sister reported afterward that Dinkins “said he was very sorry and was going to help us as much as possible.”
By no means was that the only occasion when Dinkins publicly conveyed empathy for the feelings of brazen lawbreakers and racial arsonists. In early 1990, for instance, he explained that “tremendously delicate diplomacy” was needed to deal with a large group of black protesters who were waging a racially motivated boycott against a Korean grocery store in Brooklyn. Every day, from early morning until late at night, the picketers stood outside the store, frightened away would-be patrons, and derided Koreans as “bloodsuckers,” “yellow monkeys,” and “people who don’t look like us.” When a court ordered the protesters to stay at least 50 feet from the market while picketing, Dinkins’ black police commissioner, Lee Brown, actually appealed the order and refused to enforce it. After nearly four months of boycotting had virtually destroyed the market’s business, Dinkins, in a televised speech, explained that a number of “frustrating” social, psychological, and economic factors were causing the demonstrators to disobey the law. “As such frustrations build and pressures mount,” he reasoned, “people are more likely to lash out. In tough times, child abuse increases, alcohol abuse rises, and the bonds of civility and decency fray.” In a similar vein, Dinkins urged black New Yorkers to “repress” their own “rage” over the fact that they themselves “have never been free from fear of attack.” Invoking the name of Yusef Hawkins, a black Brooklyn youth who had been killed by a group of whites in racially charged circumstances nine months earlier, the mayor lamented that as a result of the “hate that was unleashed upon” Hawkins, “the city can never be fully healed, and his sacrifice must never be forgotten.”
Dinkins likewise tried his hand at appeasement in August 1991, when black mobs in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn staged three days and nights of anti-Semitic riots (murdering one Hasidic Jew in the process) in response to a traffic mishap in which a Jewish driver had accidentally struck and killed a local 7-year-old black child. Characterizing the situation as “tense” and “painful,” the mayor prevented police officers from using the force necessary to quell the violence, instructing them not to retaliate against the barrages of rocks and bottles thrown at them. “New York’s finest have been transformed into New York’s lamest,” complained police union president Phil Caruso. “Lame not only because of the severe nature of the injuries sustained—but because of the relatively lethargic, virtually inert response that police officers under an actual state of siege have been allowed to put forth.”
Dinkins’ ineffectiveness in dealing with crime had a profound effect on the quality of life in New York, as the incidence of violence in the city reached an all-time high. In 1989, before Dinkins took office, New York was ranked seventh in the Places Rated Almanac, which rates cities for their overall livability. By 1993, as Dinkins’ term drew to a close, the city had slipped to 105th in the rankings. A 1993 poll of New Yorkers found that 59% felt that life in the city had gotten worse on the mayor’s watch, while just 8% thought it had improved.
Republican Rudolph Giuliani replaced Dinkins as mayor in 1994 and quickly transformed New York into the safest big city in America. He did this chiefly by increasing the NYPD’s manpower from 28,000 officers to 40,000, and adopting a zero-tolerance approach to crime-fighting. Toward that end, Giuliani hired William Bratton as his police chief. Bratton was a proponent of the “broken windows” criminological theory which contends that maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition—and clamping down on petty crimes—ultimately helps prevent not only low-level vandalism, but also the commission of more serious offenses. Thus Bratton instructed police to more strictly enforce existing laws against such relatively minor infractions as subway-fare evasion, public drinking, public urination, and shakedown operations by “squeegee men” demanding payment in exchange for their unsolicited wiping of the windshields on cars stopped at red lights.
Another vital component of Giuliani’s crime-fighting approach was the use of COMPSTAT, an organizational management tool that employs Geographic Information Systems to map crime and identify specific problem areas. In weekly meetings, NYPD executives met with local precinct commanders to discuss the problems revealed by COMPSTAT and devise strategies to deal with them.
The results of Giuliani’s efforts were extraordinary, as evidenced by the fact that during his eight years in office, the incidence of homicide in the city fell dramatically, from 1,946 in Dinkins’ final year as mayor, to 1,561 in 1994, to 1,177 in 1995, to 983 in 1996, to 770 in 1997, to 633 in 1998, to 671 in 1999, to 673 in 2000, to 649 in 2001.
When Republican Michael Bloomberg succeeded Giuliani as mayor in 2002, he continued the same anti-crime strategies as his predecessor. As a result, homicide rates in the city fell even lower, with totals of 587 in 2002; 597 in 2003; 570 in 2004; 539 in 2005; 596 in 2006; 496 in 2007; 523 in 2008; 471 in 2009; 536 in 2010; 515 in 2011; 419 in 2012; and 335 in 2013.
When Democrat Bill de Blasio succeeded Bloomberg as mayor of New York in 2014, he appointed Bill Bratton as his chief of police. Despite some changes, most of the Giuliani-Bloomberg policies remained more-or-less in force, and New York’s homicide rate stayed at about the level at which it had been when Bloomberg left office.
Those who benefited most, by far, from the policies put in place by Giuliani (and later Bloomberg), were the black and Hispanic residents of such traditionally high-crime areas as Brooklyn’s 75th Precinct, Bedford-Stuyvesant’s 81st Precinct, and Harlem’s 28th Precinct. Indeed, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 79% of the decline in homicide victims citywide between 1993 and 2011. Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald estimates that “more than 10,000 black and Hispanic males avoided the premature death that would have been their fate had New York’s homicide rate remained at its early-1990s apex.” Also between 1993 and 2011, the number of rapes that occurred annually in New York City declined by 54.8%; robberies fell by 80.3%; felony assaults dropped by 57.8%; and burglaries were reduced by 84.6%. This means that many tens of thousands of black and Hispanic would-be victims were spared the anguish associated with those crimes as well.